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Iron is an important trace mineral, with the atomic number of 26, and is part of the vital activity of the blood and glands. It is responsible for the oxygen transport and the formation of red blood cells. It is part of the enzymes haemoglobin (in the blood) and myoglobulin (in the muscles) and of other enzymes. It is also important in the energy production and it is vital for a correctly functioning immune system and repairs and recovery from infections, injuries and surgery. 

Iron exists chiefly as haemoglobin in the blood. It distributes the oxygen inhaled into the lungs to all the cells. It is the master mineral which creates warmth, vitality and stamina. It is required for the healthy complexion and for building up resistance in the body. Iron also improves physical performances, prevents and cures anaemia, increases  immunity, raises energy levels and holds the energy level stable.

Women absorb more iron than men, but iron deficiencies are more common for women than men. This is because of the loss of blood during the menstruation. Also the blood production for the foetus, breast-feeding, and the use of a spiral, has claim a lot of the iron reserves of a woman. Studies have shown that women from the adolescence until the menopause have a large risk of developing a chronic iron deficiency. As a consequence anaemia can develop. Symptoms of women with iron deficiency are a lowered appetite, fatigue, headaches, heart palpitations, pale skin, respirations difficulties in case of physical effort and tingling of the hands and feet.

Iron is an important component in cognitive, motor sensor and social-emotional development and functioning. Iron deficiency leads to an insufficient number of red blood cells which can cause symptoms of depression like fatigue, brain fog, loss of appetite and irritability. It also helps prevent learning problems for children and promotes a calm sleep.

Iron deficiency

The World Health Organization estimates that 600 - 700 million people are deficient in iron, probably making it the most common nutritional deficiency disorder in the world. Iron deficiency is generally caused by severe blood loss, malnutrition, infections and by excessive use of drugs and chemicals and drinking too much alcohol. It may cause nutritional anaemia, lowered resistance to disease, a general run down condition, pale complexion, getting tired easily, shortness of breath on manual exertion and loss of interest in sex. Iron is the classic remedy for anaemia. However, there are several forms of anaemia, and iron deficiency anaemia is only one.

Iron deficiency can also cause dyspnoea (breathlessness), insomnia, heart palpitations. headache, a poor appetite and tingling hands and feet.

A deficiency of iron and vitamin B6 may be responsible for the anxiety, distress and hyperventilation which accompanies panic attacks. When consuming iron rich foods, one should also consume foods rich in vitamin B9, vitamin B12 and vitamin C everyday.

Vitamin A helps move iron from storage in the body, without adequate amounts of vitamin A the body cannot regulate iron properly leading to an iron deficiency.

Heme or ferrous iron is the most readily absorbed form of iron and is found in red meat, poultry, fish and shellfish. Non-heme iron is less absorbable than heme iron and is found in green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale as well as eggs, milk and meat. Sources of non-heme iron often contain phytates which bind to iron and carry it through the digestive tract unabsorbed. Phytates can reduced iron absorption by up to 80%. As a result, the plant foods with high iron content are not always the best sources. By weight, soya beans have twice the iron of beef, but only about 7% of the iron in soya beans is absorbed. Spinach is also high in iron, but less than 2% in cooked spinach is absorbed. Eating some vitamin C rich foods such as a couple of strawberries, an orange, kiwi fruit, tangerine or some mango at the same time as consuming these non-heme containing foods can assist in better absorption.


Cooking in iron pots can add extra iron to the diet especially if acidic foods are cooked at high temperatures.


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Components that inhibit iron absorption

  • Minerals that compete with iron for absorption such as calcium, copper, magnesium, and zinc.

  • Egg protein (from both the white and the yolk)

  • Certain herbs including peppermint and chamomile

  • Coffee

  • Cocoa

  • High fibre foods

  • Phytic acid (found in grains, legumes and other plant foods)

  • Tannic acid (in tea)

Iron overdose

Iron supplements are not advised because an overdose can cause constipation, diarrhoea, damage to the heart and liver and in rare cases, in extremely high doses, even be fatal. Even doses of three grams can be deadly especially for children.


Haemochromatosis is a hereditary disease characterised by excessive absorption of dietary iron resulting in abnormal high levels of total body iron stores. Excess iron accumulates in tissues and organs disrupting their normal function. The hereditary form of the disease is most common among those of Northern European ancestry, in particular those of British or Irish descent, with a prevalence of one in 200. For those patients extra iron will likely worsen their symptoms.

Highest sources of iron in milligrams per 100 grams

  • Black pepper, marjoram, parsley, spinach, thyme 224 mg

  • Spirulina 29 mg

  • Clams 28 mg

  • Bran 19 mg

  • Liver 18 mg

  • Squash and pumpkin seeds 15 mg

  • Caviar 12 mg

  • Hemp seeds 9.6 mg

  • Sun dried tomatoes 9 mg

  • Cashew nuts 6.7 mg

  • Dried apricot 6.3 mg

  • Wheat 6.3 mg

  • Black strap molasses 4.7 mg

  • Prunes 3.5 mg

  • Artichokes 3.4 mg

  • Prawns 3.1 mg

  • Lean beef 2.9 mg

  • Turkey 2.3mg

  • Raisins 1.9 mg

  • Chicken 1.3 mg

  • Tuna 1.3 mg

Natural sources of iron in alphabetical order

Iron is found in all green leafy vegetables and most dark coloured fruits.

Associated subjects

"Nature cures not the physician..." Hippocrates 460 BC

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